2020 Workforce news roundup

The 20 Best Jobs for Work-Life Balance (Business Insider): Work-life balance is becoming more of a priority for employees as new technology makes it easy for work to follow us home. According to a recent Glassdoor survey, employees in some professions may find the balance easier than others.

How instant feedback during an interview can change a career (Fast Company): Some companies are providing feedback during an interview—if a candidate doesn’t respond well in an interview, he or she may not respond well as an employee, either.

Search for talent in hotel’s front-desk position (The Malaysian Reserve): As tourism in Malaysia is expected to increase over the next few years, the hospitality industry is seeking front-desk talent with strong English and communication skills. Recruiting employees with English skills is a challenge, but many hotels are investing in English courses for their employees instead.

Just Whose Job is it to Train Workers? (Wall Street Journal): Many companies are struggling to find employees with the skills they need—but perhaps they should be investing in training and development instead of recruiting from an increasingly narrow pool of applicants.

Paternity leave lacking in the UK

The preliminary results from our survey point to a gap between what employees want and what executives say their companies provide. In addition to competitive compensation, benefits like the opportunity to work on a flexible schedule or flexible location is a big priorities for employees.

One aspect of flexible work is paid parental leave. This recent article from The Guardian discusses the UK’s national approach to paternity leave. Unlike countries like Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, where paternity leave is encouraged (or even mandated), companies in the UK are less likely to provide any substantial paid leave to new fathers, putting a strain on male employees and impeding gender equality in the workplace.

Ultimately, this kind of gap in what companies are offering employees and what employees expect could hinder successful workforce development. When our surveys close in a few weeks, we’ll have more insight into how these gaps in understanding vary country-by-country-stay tuned.

It’s up to senior leaders to boost employee engagement

We’ve been talking a lot about the relationship between employee happiness and productivity and the factors that contribute to engagement—topics that are in the news more and more as companies realize the value of cultivating a positive corporate culture.

Last Sunday, The New York Times published an article (“Why You Hate Work,” Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath) from the leaders at The Energy Project, a consulting firm built on the idea that “the way we’re working isn’t working.” The company recently teamed up with the Harvard Business Review to survey 12,000 employees about their engagement and productivity levels.

Their study found that employees whose physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs are met at work report higher job satisfaction and levels of focus. The researchers also found that, while senior executives are typically aware of the correlation between engagement and performance, most are not investing in meeting the needs of their employers or promoting work/life balance as much as they probably should.

 The energy of leaders is, for better or worse, contagious. When leaders explicitly encourage employees to work in more sustainable ways — and especially when they themselves model a sustainable way of working — their employees are 55 percent more engaged, 53 percent more focused, and more likely to stay at the company, [The Energy Project’s] research with the Harvard Business Review found.

As evidence that engagement leads to productivity grows, senior leaders should plan to in the wants and needs of their employees in the years ahead—to ignore worker satisfaction any longer may be detrimental to the overall health of the business.


Money doesn’t equal happiness: More on work/life balance

How do workplace benefits and opportunities vary from country to country? This new article from Fast Company uses data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to compare job opportunities, earning potential, and work/life balance in several countries.

Among the key findings is that money doesn’t always equal happiness. While America tops the household income and financial wealth list with an average household disposable income of $38,001 per year, they fall to the bottom of the list when it comes to happiness, health, and work/life balance—there, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway are in the lead.

We are looking into many of these topics in-depth in our surveys and will have preliminary results to share with you in the next few weeks. In the meantime, check out Debra D’Agostino’s post about our Workforce 2020 project on LinkedIn.

The 30-hour workweek

The Swedish city Gothenburg is in the news this week for introducing a six-hour workday to public sector employees. The city hopes reducing working hours will improve productivity, result in fewer sick days, and save the city money.

This isn’t a new concept—in 1930, Kellogg’s instituted a six-hour workday to cut costs and provide jobs to those who’d lost them in the Great Depression. The short-term solution turned into a long-term policy—the six-hour program was in place in some form until 1985—after company president Lewis Brown noticed employees worked harder and more efficiently.

Employees everywhere probably hope their company will be the next to implement this policy, but in an age where mobility allows work to follow us everywhere,  the program may not be the best cure for employee exhaustion. A better solution might be France’s combination of a 35-hour workweek and its fresh mandate forbidding companies to contact employees after their work day is over.

Happier employees are better employees

Friday’s post about Google’s study on work/life balance raised questions about the relationship between employee productivity and happiness, and how both can be maximized. Economists from the University of Warwick recently published a paper on the same topic. The economists tested over 700 participants’ performance on a simple math quiz after feeding chocolate and fruit to one group, playing a stand-up comedy videos for a second group—and then giving an unfed,  unamused third group the same test. Somewhat unsurprisingly, those who were given food and shown the stand-up routine performed better on the test.

As we discussed on Friday, doing a good job is its own reward, and it’s easy to imagine that the participants who performed well on the test left with a sense of well-being separate from the ones induced by chocolate and comedy. What does this mean for companies? How can you set employees up for success, build a pattern of productivity, and promote a self-sustaining culture of happiness and well-being?

A scientific approach to work/life balance

“After more than a decade in People Operations, I believe that the experience of work can be — should be — so much better.”

With all due respect, most of us reached the same conclusion by the end of the first week of our careers.

More seriously:

We all have our opinions and case studies, but there is precious little scientific certainty around how to build great work environments, cultivate high performing teams, maximize productivity, or enhance happiness.

Google is doing a major, longitudinal study about work/life balance and the factors that shape employee attitudes and behaviors. One outcome should be a better understanding of the well-being of workers. But there may be other benefits as well:

Beyond work-life balance there are any number of fascinating puzzles that we hope this longitudinal approach can help solve. For a given type of problem, what diverse characteristics should a team possess to have the best chance of solving it? What are the biggest influencers of a satisfying and productive work experience? How can peak performance be sustained over decades? How are ideas born and how do they die? How do we maximize happiness and productivity at the same time?

That last question is a good one. One answer is that productivity can be a component of happiness. I’m not sure where I fall on Google’s spectrum of “Segmentors,” who uncouple work stress from the rest of their lives, and “Integrators’” who never quite unplug. Work is in my mental RAM even on weekends, but I also take the time to walk my dog during the workday. Feels like balance to me.